NATO after Chicago: Struggling for Capabilities, Enlarge or Regionalize?

Introductory remarks by the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Amb. Alexander Vershbow at the 7th annual Riga Conference

  • 15 Sep. 2012
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  • Last updated: 24 Sep. 2012 11:39

Our topic today – “enlarge or regionalise” – implies that in an age of austerity, the NATO Alliance must make a choice between looking outwards beyond our region, or looking inwards and focussing primarily on Europe. I believe this is a false choice.

NATO’s primary mission was, is, and will always be the defence of Allies’ security. This still involves paying close attention to our region. For example, we need to remain engaged in the Balkans, not only to finish the job in Kosovo, but to help bring the whole region into the European mainstream. And we must also keep working to improve our relations with Russia, while continuing to engage with other key countries to the East, such as Ukraine.

But today’s security challenges, such as cyberwarfare, missile proliferation, and terrorism, do not confine themselves to a single region, and neither can we.

Some think that with the end of our combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, NATO will have earned a period of R&R – of rest and rebuilding. But we can’t ignore what is happening elsewhere in the world, in places such as North Africa and the Middle East. We simply can’t stop the world and get off.

It may be true that NATO does not face an existential threat at the moment, but that is also irrelevant. The Alliance remains our best insurance policy in case an unexpected crisis occurs. We saw this in Libya last year. While NATO may not be the solution to every problem, our countries need to be ready for whatever the future holds in store.

So what does this mean for NATO in practical terms? Going forward from this year’s Chicago Summit, what kind of Alliance do we need in the year 2020 and beyond?

First, security is global, and insecurity far from our borders can lessen our security here at home. So NATO members will continue to need the capacity to project power well beyond NATO’s borders.

But just as importantly in an era of global threats, we need to add to our strength by reaching out across the globe for partners in security who are prepared to meet those threats together with us. Fortunately, we have found them – on all five continents.

They include countries like Australia, with whom we recently signed a Joint Political Declaration on future cooperation; Georgia, now surpassing Australia as the largest non-NATO contributor in Afghanistan; Arab partners like Jordan, Morocco, the UAE and Qatar, who participated in our operation in Libya; plus Sweden, Finland, Austria, the Republic of Korea, and many, many more.

Looking ahead, we need to expand our partnerships with countries in our neighbourhood and also beyond it. Partnerships make NATO stronger. Tools developed under the Partnership for Peace allow us to help countries in transition – especially in the Middle East and North Africa – to build transparent and effective defence institutions and consolidate reform.

Third, enlargement. At our Summit in Chicago last May, NATO Allies reaffirmed our Open Door policy and our Foreign Ministers met with the four countries that now aspire to membership. I visited all four countries after the Summit to review their cooperation with NATO and their progress toward meeting Alliance standards.

Enlargement has been one of the Alliance’s defining achievements, but the job is not yet finished.

After the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union dissolved two decades ago, NATO used the promise of membership to help spread security, prosperity, and freedom across this continent.

Former adversaries became partners and then Allies – including our host country. In the past, Latvia was a victim of great power intrigue. Now it is a strong, prosperous democracy and a provider of security, for example by contributing 175 soldiers to our operations in Afghanistan.

Together with EU enlargement, the admission of new NATO members transformed the continent into a zone where democracy has taken firm root and where war is now virtually unthinkable.

So, while each aspiring member must meet NATO standards and contribute to our security, the Open Door must remain more than a slogan as NATO looks to 2020 and beyond.

Fourth, Asia. The U.S. “pivot to Asia” reflects the growing challenges of that region. But it is also an opportunity. Better connectivity with Asia is not only in the United States’ interests. It is also in Europe’s interest.

This “pivot” has raised questions about the European Allies’ ability to do more for their own security, and the financial crisis has only made this task more difficult. A key challenge is to ensure that austerity does not undermine our security by diminishing our military capabilities, or widen the gap between European allies and the United States to the point that it becomes politically unsustainable.

Part of the solution is what we call Smart Defence. It involves Allies prioritising what they need, specialising in what they do best, and cooperating multinationally to achieve common goals that they might not be able to afford individually. In this way, we can become more effective and efficient, while sustaining our level of ambition.

At our Summit in Chicago last May, Allies approved a package of more than 20 ‘Smart Defence’ projects. This included an interim capability for a NATO missile defence system, new initiatives in joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, plus cooperative projects in areas such as countering IEDs, logistics and sustainment. We also agreed an extension of Baltic Air Policing.

This is a good start, but much remains to be done.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if there is one lesson that the 21st century has taught us so far, it is that we cannot choose between security at home and security abroad. They are one and the same.

We need a perspective that is both European and global. We need capabilities that are flexible, deployable, and technologically advanced to meet both traditional and non-traditional threats. And we need partners, both in Europe and around the globe, to expand the community of shared interests, shared values, and shared security that NATO represents. That’s the NATO we need in 2020 and beyond, and that’s the NATO we are delivering.

Thank you. I look forward to an interesting discussion.